The 2014 Masters won’t feature golf’s No. 1 attraction in Tiger Woods, who is recovering from back surgery. But there are plenty of other marquee names that will grace storied Augusta National Thursday-Sunday.
Past champions Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott will try to add to their green jacket collections, while Rory McIlroy will be looking for his first. Elsewhere, up-and-coming dark horses will challenge the established stars for the title.
With all that in mind, let’s look at a few projections for some of the top players.
*Stats courtesy of PGATour.com.
Phil Mickelson Will Return to Masters Form
Mickelson finished in a disappointing tie for 54th place in the 2013 Masters with a score of nine over par.
However, Lefty won in 2004, 2006 and 2010; finished in the top three in 1996, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2012; and placed in the top 10 on six other occasions. Mickelson, also the reigning Open Championship winner, has one of the most impressive marks at Augusta of anyone in the history of the sport.
But Mickelson has dealt with injuries this year and actually withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open and the Valero Texas Open. He seemed confident in his health after playing four rounds at the Shell Houston Open, though, via Bob Harig of ESPN.com:
Last week I felt great. I was surprised because I had a pulled muscle in Texas and I felt great all four rounds. I had been doing physic ball work and stuff to strengthen my back every morning, every night, for weeks and weeks to make sure that I enter this week feeling good, healthy and I'm able to swing as hard as I want and hit the shots that I need to try and hit.
Look for Mickelson to use his resurgent health to propel him to a solid finish. A fourth green jacket would tie him with Woods and Arnold Palmer. Only Jack Nicklaus (with six) owns more.
Rory McIlroy Won’t Exorcise Masters Demons
If McIlroy needs a green jacket to officially exorcise his Masters demons, it won’t happen in 2014. However, he is more than capable of finishing in the top 10.
Unfortunately for McIlroy, until he wins at Augusta he will always be remembered for his 80 in the final round of 2011. His 15th-place finish that year was the best of his career at Augusta, which is somewhat peculiar considering that the high arc on his ball is well-suited for the course.
He does have some momentum on his side though with three top-10 finishes already this season, including a tie for seventh place in the Shell Houston Open last week. Still, he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2012, and Augusta isn’t exactly the ideal location to break out of victory slump.
At least he is preparing though, as Nike Golf pointed out:
Look for McIlroy to continue his recent solid play, but it won’t be enough to land a green jacket in the deep Masters field.
Either Dustin Johnson or Matt Kuchar Will Win a First Ever Major
Few golfers in the world are playing better than Dustin Johnson right now. He has a win and two runner-up finishes among his five top 10s in the season thus far and is riding an improvement in his iron game.
His driving distance of 310.8 yards is good enough for second on the Tour, while his greens in regulation mark of 72 percent puts him third in that category. That balanced attack of power and approach is critical at Augusta.
Johnson has never won a major, which is something that can also be said about Matt Kuchar.
The consistent Kuchar is eighth in scoring average on the Tour (69.74) and tied for third and eighth at the past two Masters. Throw in the fact that he finished fourth at the Valero Texas Open and second in a playoff at the Shell Houston Open his last two times out, and the steady Kuchar has momentum on his side.
Yes, he blew a lead in the final round of the Houston Open, but he has played well recently.
Kuchar’s scramble rate of 63 percent (good enough for 15th on the Tour) will serve him well on the difficult holes of Augusta. Look for both he and Johnson to be in the running throughout the tournament, with one of them winning a first ever major with an impressive Sunday outing.
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